Outdoor Dining Might Be Back, But With Some Limits

Written By: Jason Graziadei | Photography By: John C. Bogle Jr.

Outdoor dining on Nantucket might make its return for a third straight year in 2022, but island officials are looking to put some limits on it ahead of the summer season. 

Widely regarded as one of the few silver linings of the pandemic, the emergency orders from the state that facilitated outdoor dining allowed numerous Nantucket establishments to expand their premises into the island’s streets, sidewalks and parking lots. 

With the summer season quickly approaching and the state considering another extension of outdoor dining, the town’s licensing administrator Amy Baxter on Wednesday recommended to the Select Board that outdoor dining be allowed to continue on some sidewalks such as Broad Street and South Water Street, but not in busier areas like Main Street. Baxter also advised the board to discontinue the use of street closures and parking areas for outdoor dining. 

That would mean some Nantucket establishments would be able to continue their outdoor dining operations in a similar fashion as what has been offered the past two years, while others would be out of luck entirely. Baxter acknowledged that given the unique circumstances of different restaurants and their surroundings, it would be impossible to treat each business the same. 

“The program was great when it worked and it showed us great things we can do, but it’s not really conducive to close actual streets right now,” Baxter said. “It did work, to some extent, on Broad Street and South Water Street, but it would be impossible to be equitable about that across the board.”

While outdoor dining was extremely popular, the question of fairness lingered during Wednesday’s discussion, as did the issues of traffic, disruption to neighboring businesses, along with trash and noise. 

“A lot of people want to continue to do this, they thought it added a lot to the downtown,” Select Board member Matt Fee said. “There’s an issue of who gets to do it and who doesn’t and how is it fair? You see Broad Street and it looks easy, but what about Main Street and other areas?”

Baxter’s recommendation to the Select Board would require eligible restaurants to submit for a sidewalk seating permit, demonstrate they meet all ADA and ABCC standards, and pay a fee for a use of space agreement as well as a bond requirement. Any use of public sidewalks should be restricted to their building envelope, Baxter said. 

Wider outdoor dining could be explored, Baxter added, as part of a long-term planning initiative for pedestrian plazas, a suggestion several Select Board members endorsed. 

The town’s previous emergency order that allowed outdoor dining expired on Dec. 31, 2021. Baxter said Wednesday that she would refine her recommendations based on the Select Board’s input, and return with a proposal they could vote on by April 13. 

“I’m in favor of continuing this,” Select Board member Kristie Ferrantella said. “It’s one of the best things that came out of COVID over the past two years. It brought the community out to downtown.”

Select Board chair Jason Bridges agreed. 

“We’re taking the best of what we learned” during the pandemic, Bridges said. “It’s more family-friendly to have seating outside. Not every family wants to go in and be next to a bar. You can have your dog with you. Most visitors enjoyed it. I think the street closures, that served its purpose during covid, but we don’t need to do that anymore.”

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